Handling Library Complaints

Module 6 – Collection Management Policy

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Module 6.4 Forum:-

What strategies can you identify, or find in school library management texts, that could assist in dealing with a complaint from a community member about a resource in a school library collection. How common is this issue in school libraries?

Please post your thoughts on the Module 6.4 Forum.

Scenario
At an independent Christian K-12 school there was a complaint made by a parent concerning the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey. The mother was horrified to read with her Kindergarten boy about different kinds of poos and detailed descriptions of the colour and texture. Interestingly, the American Library Association has received more complaints about these novels than any other book in 2012 (http://gossipy.co/captain-underpants-tops-library-complaints-list).

Action by the school
The Learning Resource Manager (LRM) who runs the library but is neither teacher nor librarian qualified, immediately withdrew the entire series of books, much to the disappointment of the mostly Year 2 and Year 3 boys who LOVE to read them. The school does not have a Collection Management Policy. It has an Acceptable Content Policy that outlines the nature of acceptable and controversial material. Controversial material is any content “to which parents could reasonably object”. There is no policy or procedure for a parent who wishes to make a complaint about content. There is a Complaints and Grievances Policy but this is about a person.

The LRM referred the complaint to the Directors of Learning. The books remained hidden in a cupboard for 3 months, as no-one had neither the time nor the inclination to deal with the issue. Eventually, the Directors of Learning flicked through each book in the series allowing some of the ones that “appeared to be okay” back onto the shelf for circulation. The offending books remain hidden in the cupboard!

What should have happened?
1) The school should have in place a current Collection Management Policy that has a section outlining what steps will be taken should material be challenged.
2) These steps should include –
• Asking the complainant to fill out a written complaint form
• Formulating a reconsideration committee (members to already be nominated in the policy) to examine the material in question, to decide if the complaint is warranted and to decide what should happen with the material in question
• Contacting the complainant (usually by the principal) to discuss the findings of the reconsideration committee and trying to resolve informally the issue
• Advising the complainant about the next step in the procedure if the issue is not resolved informally with the principal.
“The procedure for handling complaints should describe every step, from the initial response to the complaint through the highest appeal” (Scales, 2009, p. 130).

Scales’ (2009) book, Protecting Intellectual Freedom in Your School Library, has detailed case studies that discuss how issues have been resolved concerning controversial material in school libraries. The case studies make for an interesting read because it consolidates theory into practice. It is American but it draws together what schools are allowed to do legally, how it involves a person’s right to freedom of information and ensuring each school follows a set procedure for addressing complaints.
“In determining what materials are acceptable, the Library’s final guide is the relevant law of Australia. If materials have not incurred penalties under Australian law, such materials cannot be excluded from the Library to satisfy individual or sectional interest” (The University of Melbourne, 2012).

Reference
Scales, P. (2009). Protecting Intellectual Freedom in Your School Library: Scenarios From the Front Lines. Chicago: American Library Association.

Also available as an ebook from: http://www.csuau.eblib.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=474221#

The University of Melbourne. (2012). University Library: Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Policy. Retrieved from: http://library.unimelb.edu.au/collections22/collection_development_policy/intellectual_freedom_and_censorship_policy

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